Dog Bites & Animal Attacks

Dog Bites & Animal Attacks

Dog bites in California are actionable, even if the owner has no prior clue their dog has bitten someone before; even if the dog bite did not break the skin or damage any tissue. 

Viscous dog. Dog Bites & Animal Attacks

You’re walking along one day when suddenly you encounter a vicious dog.  The dog barks and snarls and suddenly lunges at you.  It grabs ahold of your cheek.  You get away, but not before the dog tears your flesh.  You need stitches, and reconstructive surgery to rebuild what the dog has destroyed.  Most animal attacks don’t result in wrongful death, but they are still serious. 

Are dog owners liable for injuries?

People who keep or have control over animals may be liable for injuries.  The owner of a dog is strictly liable for the damages suffered by anyone who is bitten by the dog while in a public place, or lawfully in a private place.  That includes the owner’s property.  But, trespassers, even children who are trespassing, are out of luck.  Some states have a “first bite law”.  In those states, an owner is only liable if the owner knows the dog is vicious (for example, has bitten someone before).  California is not one of those states.  In California, dog owners are liable regardless of any prior viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of that viciousness.  In fact, dog bites are actionable even if the bite does not even break the skin or damage any tissue. 

Are owners of dangerous animals liable for injuries?

Keepers of animals that are dangerous by nature, or keepers who know, or have reason to know of an animal’s dangerous traits are strictly liable to anyone injured by the animal.  This strict liability extends to keepers (people who are in possession of the animal at the moment and not just owners), animals other than dogs, and animal actions other than biting. 

Dogs generally speaking aren’t considered abnormally dangerous.  But, if a particular dog has dangerous propensities that the owner or keeper know about, they can be strictly liable.  Dog bites and wild animal attacks can be serious, traumatic and disfiguring. Keepers of a wild animal are presumed to know if they are ferocious by nature.  Dog’s dangerous character may be shown by size, or breed, or the fact that it was chained, or muzzled, or trained or used as a watchdog.  Prior incidents do not need to be precisely the same as the one causing the accident if they show the animal’s bad disposition.  But, there must be some relationship between the prior conduct and the conduct that injured the person. 

Of course, owners of animals can be plain old negligent.  In fact, liability of an owner or keeper may be based off a theory of negligence, whether the animal is known to be vicious or not.  Owners have a duty to anticipate harm from characteristics of an animal.  They must exercise ordinary care to prevent it. 

That can include:

  • Warning of an animal’s dangerous trait;
  • Ascertaining whether an animal has a dangerous propensity;
  • Restraining a dangerous animal;
  • Providing for or exercising control over an animal even if it has not already shown any dangerous traits;
  • Not engaging in conduct that will likely excite the animal.

But, owners are not negligent for failing to warn of unknown dangers which they could not reasonably be expected to know. 

Owners must vaccinate their dogs against rabies.  Owners must also obey leash laws.  If they are not obeying leash laws, it could be an example of negligence per se.  Violations of leash laws may constitute actionable negligence if the dog interferes with a vehicle, a bicycle, or a pedestrian.  So, if you are riding along, and Fido isn’t on a leash, and he should be, and he chases you, and you crash, Fido’s owner could be liable.

I got bit at a store, is the owner liable?  

Employers who permit employees to bring dogs onto the employer’s property can be liable for injuries resulting from the dog’s attack on a person lawfully on that property.  In addition, landlords may be liable if they had actual knowledge of the presence of a tenant’s dog, and its dangerous propensities. 

What do I do if I get hurt by an animal?

If you have been hurt by an animal like a dog bite, you need to act fast.  There are statutes of limitations.  Statutes of limitations only give people a certain amount of time to file lawsuits.  Most attorneys want to take some time to thoroughly investigate lawsuits before helping file them.  So, most attorneys want to meet with potential clients as early as possible. 

You want a qualified attorney, who will be open and honest with you.  Attorney McCarthy is nationally recognized.  He has a reputation for fighting hard for his clients, while taking the time to guide them through tough choices.  We offer a fast, free, confidential case evaluation form.  The forms go straight to an award winning attorney’s inbox.  The attorney will review and respond to every form, typically within 24-48 hours.  If we think we are in a position to help, we will call, text, or email to set up a free consultation.  If we decide we are not in a position to help we will typically provide you with resources to help you understand the law, find an attorney who might be able to help, and even represent yourself.

Were you the victim of an animal attack or suffered dog bites? What are you waiting for?        



Your responses will go straight to John’s inbox. John will review and respond by the end of the business day. If John thinks he can help, he’ll email you a link to schedule a free consultation with him. If John doesn’t think he can help, he’ll email you resources to help you understand the law, find a qualified lawyer to help you, and take steps to protect your rights. No waiting around.

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